By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Hill County Sheriff's Office plans to purchase an arsenal of nonlethal weapons to quell any potential disturbances at the Hill County Detention Center, and detention staffers received training this week from an elite jail riot team from Missoula.
Five members of the Disturbance Response Team for the Missoula County Detention Facility were in Havre to train Hill County detention officers in cell extraction techniques and demonstrate the use of a variety of nonlethal weapons.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said the Sheriff's Office had planned to purchase some of the weapons for a while, but a recent disturbance at the jail put those efforts on the fast track.
"The past incident we had kind of expedited getting this thing done," he said, referring to a June 4 disturbance in which six prisoners briefly clashed with detention officers and were later charged with rioting. The incident was resolved peacefully when additional law enforcement officers from the Havre Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrived.
Szudera said he thinks nonlethal weapons could be used effectively if similar situations arise.
During a demonstration at the Havre Police Department firing range south of Havre on Tuesday afternoon, DRT members showcased some of the nonlethal weapons used in the Missoula County Detention Facility, including tear gas grenades, bean bags, rubber bullets and a modified paintball gun.
Before an audience of about 20 officers from the Hill County Sheriff's Office, Havre Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DRT team members took turns firing nonlethal rounds at a 55-gallon drum and a target of a human silhouette.
One of the first weapons tested was a Sage KO6 37 mm rotary launcher. The weapon holds six rounds, and can fire a variety of ammunition. The Missoula County Detention Facility uses it to fire baton rounds, which are very large, nonlethal bullets that bounce off targets.
"It's not something you want to use at close range," said Sgt. Jonathan Steineford, DRT team leader.
The 2.7-ounce KO1 baton round has a muzzle velocity of 240 feet per second and an effective range of about 100 yards.
While the Sage is one of the most popular antiriot guns used in law enforcement, Steineford warned that the weapon is large and unwieldy, and comes with a price tag of $1,700, not including ammunition and accessories.
More cost effective were the nonlethal 12-gauge shotgun rounds used by DRT members on Tuesday. Modified to fire at lower muzzle velocities, the rounds discharge either a rubber bullet or a bean bag.
The newest generation of bean bags are aerodynamic and more accurate than older bean bag rounds, which had a tendency to spin like a disc, Steineford said.
One weapon that caught Szudera's attention was the SA-200 Pepperball, another relatively inexpensive nonlethal weapon. The Pepperball is a paintball gun that shoots rounds containing chemicals instead of paint. The balls break open on impact and release a powder like cayenne pepper.
In some cases, it can also be used to "paint" riot leaders so detention staff can identify them.
The Pepperball uses compressed air to fire rounds at 384 feet per second. The air canister is easily refilled using a scuba tank.
Szudera said he would like one for the Hill County Detention Center.
DRT members also demonstrated the use of several nonlethal grenades, including two that release cayenne pepper, and one that shoots 180 .32-caliber rubber balls like shrapnel.
The chemical grenades can be dropped into a cell block, or thrown into the air to release a cloud of incapacitating chemicals.
It is not clear when the nonlethal weapons will be available to the Hill County Detention Center.
Szudera said finding money to pay for the equipment is the biggest obstacle.
"I'll do what I have to, to get some of that stuff," he said, adding that he is looking at some federal law enforcement grants.
Missoula's Disturbance Response Team has been in Havre since Monday. It provided specialized training to local detention officers, including cell extraction techniques.
The techniques can be employed when detention staffers need to quickly remove a prisoner from a cell.
Those incidents might include times when a prisoner is performing self-mutilation or assaulting another inmate, or possesses a weapon or other contraband, Steineford said.